Friday, September 1, 2000
Steamboat Springs For some, a straw house may conjure the image of three certain pigs and a hungry wolf looking for dinner, but for others, it brings Mel Stewart and Jenny LaRoux to mind.
The couple is building their new home on River Road by using bales of straw as the primary material.
A straw house may seem unusual, but LaRoux estimated that theirs was the fifth built in Steamboat Springs, and another is on the way.
"There's a big straw-bale community on the Internet," she added.
That's where the couple got some of their information to build the house, along with pointers from other straw builders in Walden, the Aspen area, California and New Mexico.
In fact, there's a whole subdivision in California where all the houses are made of straw.
That shouldn't be too surprising to history buffs. Some of the first settlers in the west used straw and hay to build homes. They became even more popular once technology was developed in the 1800s to compress bales making perfect blocks for building.
Humans have used straw or hay to build homes since we figured out how to build shelters, but that doesn't mean today's modern straw homes are archaic.
Stewart and LaRoux's home is framed and roofed with wood. Straw bales, each 40 inches thick, are then stacked between the 2-by-4 framing and wired to the frame.
A bamboo pole is also inserted though each stack of straw to keep it place.
The straw acts as an insulator. The bales are cut, shaped and sculpted to fit into the building.
Though there was a plan for the building, Stewart and LaRoux basically choose where they wanted to put windows as they went along by not stacking straw in that area.
When the stacking is complete, stucco is applied right on the straw, sealing it completely.
"When it's done, it will have a soft natural look to it," LaRoux said.
The home also will be ultra efficient, nearly three times more insulating than one layer of typical 2-by-4 inch insulation, she said.
Stewart came upon the idea of using straw to for their house when he was researching alternative materials for building.
He was looking for something environmentally conscious, cost effective and easily constructed, so that he and LaRoux could participate.
"We can do a lot work ourselves," he said.
At the end of July, Stewart and LaRoux invited friends and people interested in building straw house out to stack bales. In fact, Stewart and LaRoux get help all the time.
"Every day, somebody stops by," LaRoux said.
They'll have another house-building party for stuccoing on Sept. 22.
That helps keep the costs down. Also, straw, as a byproduct of wheat, is cheaper than normal insulation. Plus, a straw bale's wide, sturdy girth cuts down on the amount of wood needed for the framing.
Another plus to using straw, is that, in a dense bale, it's more fire-resistant than normal insulation, Stewart said.
"It's like trying to start a phone book on fire," he said.
However, in the building phase, the straw that hasn't been baled is a fire hazard.
"We were very, very cautious," LaRoux said.
Water also is an issue. Though the stucco seals the straw bales, if water does get into the wall it can cause molding.
"We'll just have to be careful," Stewart said.
To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail email@example.com